Two NYU profs, one alum receive 2021 MacArthur Fellowships

NYU professors Nicole Fleetwood and Victor J. Torres and alum Daniel Lind-Ramos talk about their experience winning the prestigious MacArthur Foundation grant. 

NYU professors Nicole Fleetwood and Victor J. Torres, and alum Daniel Lind-Ramos were recently awarded 2021 MacArthur Fellowships. Each September, the MacArthur Foundation awards around 20 fellowships to professionals who show creativity and promise in their fields. Recipients receive a grant of $625,000, paid in installments over five years, that can enable them to advance their careers.

WSN spoke with the three recipients about their work and what they plan on doing with the grants.

Nicole Fleetwood

(Image courtesy of John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Fleetwood — an art historian and curator currently serving as the inaugural James Weldon Johnson Professor in the Media, Culture, and Communication department at Steinhardt — was awarded the fellowship for her studies of art created by incarcerated people. Before coming to NYU, Fleetwood taught American studies and art history at Rutgers University. She has worked on issues relating to mass incarceration for a decade.

“Through visiting incarcerated relatives, I started to notice that many prison visiting rooms have lots of art in them, and I was very fascinated about who was doing that art, how they got access to materials, what kind of spaces were available, access to resources, teaching and the like,” Fleetwood said. “Through my own family’s experience — and then through experience in the visiting room — I became more and more fascinated and started interviewing people who were incarcerated artists or had been incarcerated and made art in prison.”

These studies led Fleetwood to create “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” a book and art exhibition featuring incarcerated artists. The exhibition debuted at the Museum of Modern Art PS1 in September 2020 and now is displayed in Birmingham, Alabama. Fleetwood hopes to use the MacArthur grant to bring the exhibition to more cities across the country.

“For me, Birmingham is a highly significant place given its long history of Black freedom struggles,” Fleetwood said.

Fleetwood said she received news of her MacArthur win while in a taxi headed to a reception at NYU.

“I was in shock, and just kind of wept and screamed and wept and screamed, but it’s still something I feel like I’m still absorbing,” Fleetwood said. “I want audiences to take very seriously the work of incarcerated artists, and I also want them to walk away feeling their own responsibility and accountability for transforming the carceral state — for ending it.”

Victor J. Torres

(Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

Victor J. Torres, the C.V. Starr Professor of Microbiology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, studies bacterial infection in humans in order to develop new therapies and vaccines. 

“Bacteria are causing a lot of infections in our hospital, in our city,” Torres said. “We’re running out of drugs to prevent or treat such infections, and this has led to multi-drug resistant bacteria or antibiotic-resistant bacteria. There is a tremendous need for basic science to try to advance the discovery of new drugs.”

Torres first became interested in microbiology when he took a class on the subject at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez and learned how microscopic organisms could thrive in human beings.

“Look what we are going through today with COVID-19 — a tiny virus can cause havoc in humanity,” Torres said. “That to me was remarkable. How we, as human beings, can be defeated by a microorganism.”

Torres said he wanted to dedicate his win to his mentors and the students who work in his laboratory.

“Look at us at NYU — how really fortunate we are that we can celebrate a scientist in the school of medicine, we can celebrate Professor Fleetwood, and we can celebrate an alum from Puerto Rico at the same time,” Torres said. “Being put in the same category as other people that are making big differences in the world in different disciplines — that, to me, is just really remarkable. It’s a tremendous honor, really.”

Torres wants to use the grant to forge a stronger relationship between NYU and universities in Puerto Rico.

“I am a product of Puerto Rico, and there are a lot of students in Puerto Rico who don’t have the privilege or the opportunities that I have gotten,” he said. “I think that’s something that I want to tap into, explore, and try to create a path for students in Puerto Rico to explore microbiology, to explore science. That’s where my heart is at the moment.”

Daniel Lind-Ramos

(Image courtesy of John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

NYU alum Daniel Lind-Ramos, a painter, sculptor and senior professor of arts and humanities at the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao, graduated from the University of Puerto Rico in 1975 and received a Master of Fine Arts from NYU in 1980.

“Knowing both the prestige of the institutions and the important names of the past fellows, it is a great honor indeed to be in that extraordinary group of people,” Lind-Ramos said.

Lind-Ramos’ work reflects the global connections present in the Caribbean and the African diaspora legacies by creating assemblages using everyday objects. His work is displayed in the “In the Eye of the Storm” group exhibition at the Z33 House for Contemporary Art, Design and Architecture in Hasselt, Belgium and “Sweat” at Haus Der Kunst in Munich, Germany.

According to Lind-Ramos, the most important element of his work is its ability to be representative of the history of the Afro-descendant communities it represents.

“I can pay tribute to traditional Afro-descendant communities through the presentation of the materials and practices that represent us,” Lind-Ramos said. 

Lind-Ramos plans on using his fellowship to complete in-progress personal and community-based projects, and start work on new projects he has had in the works for years.

Contact Carmo Moniz at [email protected]